There is no shame in self-awareness and I am painfully aware of the fact that I am a geek. Film, music, comics and television all have me venting my geekish spleen on a daily basis to all who are within earshot, and so here I go again. One of my geek faves is back in new animated installments, namely the pioneering classic in Japanese animated post-apocalyptic carnage FIST OF THE NORTH STAR, and being the hardcore that I am I wanted to bring you the skinny right away.
ADV Films has obtained the American rights to the new made-for-DVD series NEW FIST OF THE NORTH STAR and has begun releasing the chapters of this would-be series relaunch. However, as many of you are no doubt aware, if one knows where to look the intrepid hardcore geek can obtain the native language DVDs with fan-provided subtitles months — sometimes years — before a domestic release. I have seen the the entire trilogy in said form, and I will shortly tell all.
A while back I wrote a piece for the Pulse that would serve as an introduction to FIST OF THE NORTH STAR (being reprinted in the US at the time by the now-defunct Raijin Comics), and if you were a novice to the series while reading that I urge you to stop reading right here. The following review is for long-term fans who've read the whole long-assed saga, know it inside and out and are waiting for new developments in the adventures of Kenshiro, the post-apocalyptic successor to the unspeakably deadly martial art of Hokuto Shinken, so those who want to start fresh have been warned. Ready? Here we go:
Following the finale of his manga adventures, NEW FIST OF THE NORTH STAR finds Kenshiro continuing his wanderings and handing out ass-whuppings to those in need of serious killing in order to foster the after-the-bomb rebuilding of human civilization. Having ditched his holy robes and beads with no explanation, our hero encounters a group of villagers being wiped out by the requisite biker scum who populate the series. After swiftly dispatching the bad guys (in extra-gory fashion that — unlike the animated feature — is not blurred out), he takes the lone survivor to "Miracle Village" for treatment by a beautiful healer named Sara. She can heal even the most dire of wounds using a technique similar to the healing techniques of Kenshiro's discipline, and this leads to her kidnapping by the villains from "Lastland". The ruler of Lastland, Sanga, claims that a god lives there, and the god can create uncontaminated water with a mere gesture, so having a healer of Sara's ability only puts icing on the proverbial cake. Sadly, if you want any of the holy water, you have to willing to utterly subjugate yourself to a lifetime of slavery. Needless to say, Ken decides to rescue Sara and the alleged god (a kid who is more than he seems), and more ass-whuppin' ensues. So much for volume one.
As for volume two, after a brief recap of chapter one, Kenshiro must obtain medical supplies to save the young water-maker from death within two days, but he must take on the deadly dwellers of a forbidden mountain to get what is needed. The cliffdwellers fight with a style similar to Ken's, and they prove to be guardians of a grave secret... Meanwhile, back at the city of Lastland the vanquished dictator Sanga is replaced by the bitter Seiji, a man whose evil is rooted in his tragic childhood. Sara the healer looks to be the target of rape by Seiji; will she escape his lustful clutches? And what will happen to the people of Lastland when Seiji orders his army to kill all who oppose him, in other words the entire population?
Volume three is nothing more than an interminable festival of talking heads and the final confrontation between Ken and Seiji is a total snoozer.
FIST OF THE NORTH STAR has been justly famous for twenty years for its action-first, plot-second approach, but the new DVD adventures reverse the formula and as a result the new series falls flat on its ass. The whole appeal depends on the tenuous soap opera logic common to kung fu films; you know, just enough plot to get you to care about the heroes and villains and make you scream like someone dropped two cups of live tadpoles down your undies when the ass-whuppin' commenced. I'm all for plot but no one — repeat, NO ONE — wants that with this series. The fun lay in the idea of guys with Superman-level powers (and beyond in some cases) throwing down with hard-earned martial skills that veered into godlike territory, and in the current DVD series the viewer is utterly screwed out of that. If you ever saw the TV series from the 1980's you know that one fight could last for as long as four or five episodes with body-counts literally well into the hundreds, and the new version is barely tepid at best.
Another major point that sinks this effort from the get-go is the fact that Kenshiro righteously exterminated all possible worthy foes during the original manga. He has faced and killed the gargantuan last exponent of a style used by the Hindu gods, a warlord who could change his skin to impenatrable steel, a child-enslaving megalomaniac who derived his powers from a direct link to a phoenix, for fuck's sake, and even a guy who channeled what amounted to the Japanese answer to the Devil himself; what the hell else could possibly be left for him to conquer? The answer: nothing worthy of his skills. At the end of the manga he had resigned himself to perpetual wandering and quelling the pissant warlords who still remained. Unless telekinetic martial artists from the planet Zagron XVII show up, it's over, folks.
Oh, and the character designs are downright ugly as well, so this horseshit isn't even fun to look at.
Bottom line: the new DVD series is a major disappointment and since the final installment is not a non-stop avalanche of carnage that might have made up for stealing three hours from your life you would do better staying at home and mine your own butt-crack instead of wasting your time on this feeble dud. TRUST YOUR BUNCHE!!!